Government Climate Change Policy - a quick overview

Ben Odams, Policy Lead in Warwickshire County Council’s Corporate Policy Unit, has been reflecting on the UK Government’s climate change policy and its wider implications. 

In Britain around 92% of the population lives in areas where the local authorities – over 500 councils – have declared a climate emergency. Despite this, and the forthcoming COP26 gathering of world leaders in Glasgow, the UK’s response to climate change is inevitably going to be shaped by UK government policy.  

The space here doesn’t allow for a detailed analysis of government policy, so instead I’m going to try and summarise where government policy is now, and what we can expect over the next few years.  

The first thing to recognise is that climate policy is not a recent invention. Previous Governments have written legislation and developed environment policy over a long period of time. The most relevant and recent step was the development of the Environment Strategy in 2018, which is a 25 year approach to climate policy. Although it was criticised for not having binding targets, it was the basis from which the current Environment Bill was created. The Bill, which is expected to become law later this year, sets legally binding targets on the government around carbon dioxide emissions and biodiversity. It also requires government to apply ‘five-tests’ for any new policy, so that each new law is clear about the impact it may have on the environment.

UK Parliament - Environment Bill (opens new window)

Alongside this, we have also seen more work done at looking into the impact of the transition to Net Zero by 2050. Whilst the need to move away from carbon intensive activity is clear, the effect of the transition on the economy, jobs, and Government itself has until recently been more the work of researchers and academics than various public bodies.  

Now bodies like the Office for Budgetary Responsibility and the Bank of England have developed analysis and scenarios about what they think the effect of the transition to Net Zero will be. Some of their findings include: 

  • Acting now versus acting in the future: the first thing we know is that it is better to start the transition now than wait until some point in the future. This is because climate change is a continual process, so the longer the transition is delayed, the greater the negative effect of climate change.  
  • Taxes will have to change: we now have more visibility over how government might use tax policy to influence behaviour and the steps they may have to take to mitigate lower taxes from some areas. For example, as we move to electric vehicles, the revenue from fuel duty will fall. Therefore, it’s increasingly possible that a proper Carbon Tax will need to be developed.  

In turn we can also see the transition start to happen:  

  • The Environment Bill: by setting legal targets, the Government is ensuring that it, and future governments, remain committed to the transition to a greener economy.  
  • Green Jobs Taskforce: set up by the government, this taskforce is looking into the jobs which could be created by the transition and identifying the skills which are needed by workers.  
  • Green finance is here: later in 2021 we can expect the Government to issue the first ‘Green Gilt’. A Gilt is a piece of government debt, and the Green Gilt is specifically to raise money to pay for the start of the government transition work. We can soon expect NS&I (National Savings & Investments) to issue the first ‘Green Bonds’ to meet the demand for environmentally-friendly savings products. 

There will be many more ideas, policies and approaches developed as we start the journey to Net Zero, and it will be critical to try and understand how these impact not just on climate change but also on communities, households and businesses.  

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